Tectonic controls on the development of a semi-arid alluvial basin as reflected in the stratigraphy of the Purilactis Group (upper cretaceous-eocene), northern Chile

A. J. Hartley*, S. Flint, P. Turner, E. J. Jolley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


The Upper Cretaceous-Eocene Purilactis Group of the north Chilean Precordillera consists of over 4100 meters of continental strata deposited in a retro-arc extensional basin. Deposited in an arid/semi-arid climate with no marine influence, the group comprises alluvial fan (51%), playa (35%), aeolian (8%), and lacustrine (6%) facies associations locally interbedded with volcaniclastic material. The basin-fill has an overall coarsening-upward profile and shows an increase in proximal fan facies up section, indicating basinward (eastward) fan progradation. Within the coarsening-upward profile, fan and playa facies are organized into: 1) large-scale (50-700 m thick) coarsening- (CU) and fining- (FU) upward cycles extending tens of kilometers, in which CU cycles represent tectonically induced (allocyclic) fan progradation during periods of decreased accomodation space (FU cycles reflect vertical aggradation and fan retreat during periods of increased accomodation space); 2) medium-scale cycles (15-50 m thick) extending up to 9 km, also representing tectonically induced fan progradation and retreat but superimposed on the larger scale cycles; and 3) small-scale, predominantly FU cycles (up to 15 m thick) extending only a few hundred meters and reflecting minor, autocyclically induced changes in sedimentation. Purilactis Group sediments were derived from a westerly (footwall) source of: 1) Upper Triassic to Lower Cretaceous sediments and volcanics (back-arc basin-fill), and 2) an andesite-dominated Upper Cretaceous volcanic arc sequence, unroofing of which is indicated by a systematic provenance change in the upper 500 meters of the group from dominantly andesitic to granodioritic detritus. Localized development of volcaniclastics in the uppermost part of the group - together with evidence of arc unroofing - indicates that arc activity, although synchronous, did not contribute significantly to the overall Purilactis basin-fill. Basin subsidence may have been influenced by thermal contraction related to cooling of the Late Cretaceous arc and/or isostatic uplift following arc unroofing, processes likely to result in relatively localized extension. A larger scale cause of extension may have resulted from the relatively slow convergence rates along the Andean margin during Late Cretaceous to Eocene times (< 55 mm/yr), which would have promoted subduction roll-back and, together with the slab pull force active at the subduction zone, resulted in the development of an extensional tectonic regime across the Andean margin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-296
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of South American Earth Sciences
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1992


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